Modes of Accidentalness and Shock in the Fiction of Mary E. Mann : A Phenomenological Study

University essay from Stockholms universitet/Engelska institutionen


It is proposed in this investigation that the phenomenon of shock is central to the fiction of Mary E. Mann as a premier factor at the heart of its powers of creative constitution. The study highlights Mann’s writing as a system of jolts, fits, and shocks lacking intrinsic meaning. The lack of intrinsic meaning in events is not viewed negatively as a mode of loss, existential meaning not having been posited beforehand as standard for measuring the nature of feelings, acts, or lives. The tendency for shocks to lack meaning in Mann’s writing is not seen as nihilistic. Shock in Mann’s writing needs to be elucidated without a prior meaning-frame or nihilistic loss-of-meaning agenda. The study presents the case that Mann’s fiction is devoted to the business of exhibiting the potential horror of human life in a non-metaphysical, non-theoretic way. In Mann’s literary texts lives fall apart without justification or forewarning. Characters walk straight into darkness and pain—but no loss or gain of metaphysical meaning is to be inferred. Disaster does not mean that life is intrinsically disastrous. Nor does catastrophe imply that we live in a universe where meaning is inevitably withheld. When meaning is given or withheld it happens to be given or withheld. This accidentalness is itself shocking. Like happiness, disaster is non-essential. It is to a large extent ruled by chance. Unlike Thomas Hardy, with whom she is sometimes compared, Mary Mann is accordingly not a pessimistic writer who tends to want to let darkness have the final word in order to immerse the reader in a metaphysics of gloom. In her short stories and novels darkness often has the last word; yet that tells us nothing about the intrinsic nature of reality. Negativity is real but extrinsic and non-essential. In Mann’s tales of Norfolk destinies, lives and characters fail simply because times are sometimes hard, and because adversity is central to fiction and existence. 

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